Friday, August 07, 2009

How Do I Buy Tickets for TIFF 2009? - Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts on how to buy tickets for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This post describes how the Advance Order Procedure works. This post has been updated for the 2009 process.

You can participate in the Advance Order Procedure if you buy one of the following "You Choose" ticket packages:

  • 10-ticket Package
  • Festival Package
  • Festival Package Lite
  • Day Package
  • Day Package Lite

When you buy one of these packages, you should receive in the mail an Envelope voucher, a Drop Off voucher and a Pick Up voucher, provided you bought before July 31, 2009 (if you didn't you will have to pick them up from the festival box office - note I haven't received vouchers yet in the mail as of August 10 - the festival says to call if you haven't received anything by August 14, assuming you placed an order between July 6 at 10:00 AM and July 31 at 11:59 PM). If you bought a Programme Book, you will also receive a voucher for that as well. The Programme Book is a large book with a detailed description and photo for each film in the festival. It is not necessary to buy this book to complete the Advance Order Procedure, as all the information is available in other formats and on the festival web site, but it is convenient to flip through offline, plus it makes a nice souvenir.

A picture of previous Programme Books is below:

And here's what the book looks like inside:

Starting at 10:00 AM on August 25, 2009, you can go to the main festival box office Nathan Phillips Square to pick up your order form. Note that on the first day there will be a line, and it can take over 45 minutes to get through it, especially if you show up first thing in the morning, so plan your day accordingly. Note you don't actually have to line up first thing on the 25th, as you can pick up your order form at any time after that as long as the completed form is returned before 1:00 PM on August 31, 2009.

If you don't live in Toronto and bought the Out-of-Town Ticket Selection Service, the festival will send everything to you via FedEx, with delivery by 10:30 AM on August 25 (time not guaranteed for remote or rural locations).

If you go to the box office in person to pick up your order, before getting in any line, track down the festival volunteer usually at the head of the line, and verify that the line is the correct one for you to be in (you can identify the volunteers by their headsets or festival t-shirts). The festival doesn't always have someone at the end of the line telling people what the line is for. There will likely be at least two lines; one for order form pickup, and one for people to buy ticket packages or get their vouchers if they didn't receive them in the mail.

Make sure you have your Envelope voucher (and optionally your Programme Book voucher) with you when you go to pick up the order form. You will not be able to get anything without the vouchers. When you get to the front of the line, turn in those vouchers and make sure you receive an order envelope, the Advance Order Book, and a copy of the Official Film Schedule, as you will need all three to complete your order. If you opted not to buy the programme book, then you will need to get yourself a highlighter (the festival won't supply those, you'll have to buy them yourself). The colour of the highlighter is no longer important.

If you did buy a programme book, then *while supplies last*, you will receive a tote bag filled with a number of promotional items and the programme book (and you will get an orange highlighter). Sometimes they run out of tote bags, but you will still receive the programme book no matter what. Check this post ( for details on what was in the 2009 tote bag. Regardless of whether you get a tote or not, you still need to make sure you receive an order envelope, the Advance Order Book, and a copy of the Official Film Schedule along with your programme book.

So, the next step is to fill out the order. Make sure you have the following:

1. The Official Film Schedule:


2. The Advance Order Book:

3. A highlighter.

Let's consider an example where you want to see the film Whip It on one of the days of the festival, with a couple of friends of yours. The order form looks as follows:

First, write the number of tickets you want in the box labeled "Qty" next to the name of the film. In this example, we want 3 tickets (because it will be yourself plus two friends). This will represent your first choice for this timeslot.

Next, highlight the name of the film with a highlighter. Do NOT highlight the barcode.

Next, find a film around the same time that will be your backup choice if your first choice is already full when they get around to processing your order form. Note this step is optional. If you do not specify a backup film and your first choice is full, you will receive a ticket voucher which you can redeem at a later date for another film at the festival. There is no fee to exchange tickets, provided you are participating in the Advance Order Procedure.

In this example, Crab Trap will be the backup choice. Below the entry for Whip It, in the 6 boxes next to the "2nd", write the 6-character event code for the 2nd choice film. In this case, the event code for Crab Trap is 1321A3 (it's the code next to the film's title). Also write in the name of the backup movie in the "Title" box below the "2nd" boxes. Note that you cannot specify a different number of tickets for the backup; the festival will in this example assume you still want 3 tickets for the 2nd choice. Do not highlight the backup choice or fill in anything in that film's entry.

Your form should look as follows:

Repeat this process until you run out of coupons or choices. For example, if you ordered a 10-ticket Package, and you wanted 2 tickets for each film, you would select 5 1st choice films and optionally, 5 2nd choice backups.

Note the restrictions on your particular package when selecting films, to ensure your order is processed correctly:
  • 1o-ticket Package: maximum of 4 tickets per screening. Valid for regular screenings only.
  • Festival Package and Festival Lite Package: maximum of 1 ticket per screening. Valid for regular screenings only.
  • Day Package and Day Package Lite: maximum of 1 ticket per screening. Valid for regular screenings that start before 5:01 PM only.
Note the term "regular screenings"; this is new for 2009. The main thing to note here is that "premium screenings" are generally the first showing of a film at Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening room. Roy Thomson Hall never has subsequent screenings, but the Visa Screening Room, and those subsequent screenings (may) be deemed regular screenings, which could then be picked in the Advance Order Process. Do not attempt to select premium screenings in your order, as the festival will likely just void that particular choice out and give you a voucher instead.

I don't know yet how these will be indicated in the schedule. I'm asking the festival for clarification on this point, since the book seems to list screenings that might be premium. UPDATE: read the comments at the end of this post for an update from Tess. UPDATE 2: Parabola heard something different from fest staff - see comments below. May be safest at this point to avoid first screenings at the Visa Screening Room until festival can clarify. UPDATE 3: the festival has officially confirmed that the Advance Order Book erroneously contains Premium screenings. If you pick one of these, they will attempt to honour the selection, but note Premium screenings have less advance order tickets available, so if you end up in the latter part of the draw your odds of getting tickets will be smaller (official response can be found here:

You can place all your choices in a single Advance Order Book, regardless of how many passes or packages you bought. If you bought 3 10-ticket Packages, then all 30 1st choices and all 30 2nd choices can go in the same book.

For any tickets that you choose not to use in the advance order process, or any choices that can't be filled because the film is sold out, you will receive vouchers that you can use towards other films with availability. You can do this alternate selection on September 3 when you pick up your completed order, or during the festival itself.

When selecting films, don't forget to account for the following:
  • Films may not start or end on time.
  • Times in the schedule do not include time for Q&A sessions after the film if the director or actors are present.
  • You should account for travel time between theatres, as some are far apart from one another.

Once you have finished picking your films and filling out the Advance Order Book, ensure you fill out the "Ticket Order Form" information at the bottom of page 3 of the Advance Order Book. If you want the festival to call you in the event of any difficulties regardless of the time of day or night, you could place a note on the form, but that's not a guarantee the festival will call. Note they process orders around the clock, so they could call you in the middle of the night if you so note.

Once you have filled out that information, place the completed Advance Order Book in the envelope you received when you picked up your form:

Fill out the "Total Number of Tickets Requested in this order" box at the top right of the envelope. If you have 3 10-film packages, then you would write 30 in this box.

Fill out the contact information on the envelope. If you include an e-mail address, then the festival should notify you by e-mail which of your choices were filled and which were not when they have finished processing your order. If you bought the package for someone else, ensure their name is also included on the form in the spot provided.

Take the Drop Off Voucher that you should have received in the mail a while ago and place it in the envelope window. Do NOT include the Pick Up Voucher; you need to keep that to pick up your completed order starting September 3, 2009 at 7:00 AM at the festival box office.

Do NOT seal the envelope; leave the flap open or tuck it in, but do not seal it.

If you have a Festival or Day Package, then you submit one envelope per Package, even if you filled out multiple order books. If you bought multiple 10-ticket Packages under your name in one order/transaction, then you will submit one envelope for all the packages. Basically, you should have one envelope per Drop Off Voucher that you have.

Drop off the envelope at the festival box office before 1:00 PM on August 31, 2009. If you do not turn in your envelope by 1:00 PM, then you will miss the lottery, and your form will be processed after everyone else's.

The festival staff then spends the time from the 31st to the 2nd processing orders. You can then line up at the festival box office any time from September 3 at 7:00 AM onwards to pick up your completed forms and see what movies you received. Take your Pick Up vouchers with you to exchange them for your processed orders. If you receive an e-mail from the festival saying you got all your choices, then I would recommend that you do NOT show up first thing in the morning, as there will be long wait (Shannon the Movie Moxie spent 6-1/2 hours in line in 2007 to get her orders and make alternate selections). If you didn't receive all your picks, then you should line up in the morning, as you will receive ticket vouchers in place of your missed picks. You can then move to another line to immediately use those vouchers to pick other films that are still available; alternatively, you can wait to use those vouchers during the festival.

Now, why don't you need to speed through getting your Advance Order Book completed as soon as possible? Because the festival has a lottery system to determine from what point they start processing orders. Therefore, there is no inherent benefit to getting your order forms returned early. Here's how the system works:

1. The festival starts with a whole bunch of empty boxes, numbered sequentially.

2. As people turn in their order forms, the forms are placed in the lowest numbered box that has room:

Here we can see completed forms being placed in box #1.

3. Once a box is full, forms are placed in the next available box, in this case box #2:

4. And once that box is full, they move to the next one, in this case box #3:

5. Once all forms have been received by the deadline, the festival has a bunch of filled, numbered boxes:

6. They then randomly draw a number from 1 to whatever the highest number box they have, in this example, 80. The number drawn represents the box number from which the festival starts processing orders. Assume for this example that 33 was the number drawn:

The festival starts processing the forms in box #33. Once they have processed all the forms in the box, they move to the next one in numerical order, in this case #34. They continue until they reach the highest numbered box, here #80. Once they finish with that box, they loop back around to box #1 and start moving upwards, until they reach the box one number before the one drawn (#32). The festival usually sends e-mails out letting you know which of your choices you have gotten.

At this point, all advanced orders have been processed and will be ready for pickup. In this example, if you were lucky enough to be in box #33, you would've gotten all your picks. But if you were in box #32, you probably won't get a lot of your picks. In that case, for each pick that wasn't fulfilled you typically receive a voucher which you can use to select a film from whatever still has tickets available. You can use vouchers coupons any time during the duration of the festival.

Festival patrons that donated at least $250 to the festival get processed before the other boxes mentioned above. And even amongst donors, the ones who contributed more money get priority over other donors.

Just for interest, the graph below gives you an idea of when people submitted their order forms in 2006:

The bulk seemed to drop their forms off in the final three hours or so before the deadline. In 2007, box 66 out of 75 was randomly drawn as the starting point. My friend and I had forms in boxes 21 and 49, and we didn't get only 3 out of the 60 films we selected (but then we didn't pick many big name films).

The next post in this series will talk about some of the different ways people pick the films they want to see, and some considerations around scheduling. The post after that will discuss what you actually do during the festival when you get to your screening, along with options if you couldn't get tickets in advance.


Great posts - these are really informative and detailed. FYI, I just clarified the premium screenings with the box office. They said that everything showing up in the book is something the 10-pack vouchers are eligible for. So, even if it's a $40 Elgin screening, there's a limited number of tickets that are available to the people balloting.

Thanks for the update on the premium screenings Tess!

I heard different things from different people. Multiple volunteers who were handing out the envelopes said anything in the Order Book was fair game, but that just didn't seem right given all the previous announcements.

I went over the box office folks, and the person there brought over someone "official looking". He said it was a screw-up that the premium shows were in the Order Book. He wasn't sure what the resolution would be, but advised that if you want to risk picking something obviously "premium" (e.g., those 6pm/9pm showings at Elgin), be sure to have a backup choice because he didn't know if any of those selections would end up being honored.

In any case, sounds like TIFF will have a headache sorting out all the confusion on this! They really should post something on their site and email everyone they can.

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites